Wednesday, April 3, 2013

10 Things...Word List

An early example of many portraits used in my portfolio to specifically get movie poster work.

Greg Manchess

I’ve heard a number of new artists complain that no one wants to take a chance on using them. That clients can’t recognize their potential. As if all their ‘talent’ will come rushing out once someone does. Where else in life does that ever happen?

A pro doesn’t wait, they do something about it. It’s called rehearsal. Actors rehearse, musicians rehearse. Firemen, police, SWAT teams, writers, singers, directors, The Blue Angels for crying out loud. Everybody rehearses.

Don’t think practice, think rehearsal. If your potential isn’t already out in front of a client, it’s not about to come out on it’s own. Clients are vary leery of putting their own jobs on the line just to ‘take a chance.’

This painting was failing right and left in the beginning stages. Later it took the Hamilton King Award at the Society of Illustrators.

Rehearsal forces you to be persistent. You must keep going in the face of fear and failure. Within those areas resides that witch, the Muse of Discovery. It’s about learning to learn. Yes, it’s about finding yourself. But what will you do when you find it? And when do you know? Persistence. In the face of failure. It takes courage to learn what you don’t know, what you fear the most.

Airbrush, pastel, Prismacolors, guache and acrylics...anything to get the painting to the surface. Early advertising job.

“Holding two opposing ideas in the head at the same time and still able to function is the mark of a superior mind.” Or something to that effect. F. Scott Fitzgerald. I can imagine as a writer he was enthralled by this realization.

It’s just never quite clear cut. If you are a creative person, a visual storyteller, then understanding this contrast is what makes a life, and a painting, worthwhile.

In painting, as in life, it’s a both/and world, not either/or. Constant juggling.

Just a small selection of the many styles I carried in my early portfolio. I was determined to find my way.

This is a major aspect for successful paintings. Once you set up your goal, get and stay determined to meet it. Finish that painting. Finish them all, but stay determined to do so. Stop giving up in the middle of it. No one will rescue it but you.

There are still days that I stumble through a piece that doesn’t match the vision in my head while I’m working on it. Whataya gonna do? Call the cops? Stick it out. Focus.

A job that demands consistency, demands that you get and keep an approach that will work throughout the entire project.

In the light of a both/and world, you still must paint a picture that’s consistent within the painting’s limitations that you’ve set up. Each painting is its own world, with its own criteria.

The same goes throughout your portfolio, and larger still, throughout your career. As the above highlighted words may help you recognize the quality you’ll bring to the picture plane, your work must lend a consistency across it that is recognizable.

No matter how you work. Leave your own mark.

From an earlier Muddy post two weeks ago. A major shift in mid-stream.

Most times, smack dab in the middle of all that determined consistency and persistent rehearsal, comes a problem. A wall of doubt, or a technical glitch, or simply a change of mind. Flexibility is crucial. (two thoughts, same mind, right?)

There’s an old tale about a monk who’s traveling with a young disciple and they come to a creek. A woman stands at the edge and won’t go across as she doesn’t want her robes wet. The monk offers to carry her. They get to the other side and after the woman leaves, the disciple says, “Master, it is forbidden to touch women in our sect.” The monk replies, “I have set her down. Why do you still carry her?”

Not only consistent, but maintaining enthusiasm that carries through is important to the client. I did 60 covers like these for Louis L'Amour paperbacks.

People are counting on you. When a client asks for your skills, they are counting on you to come through for them. You pull that prima donna junk in the middle of a job and you might as well bag work for a while. That rumor travels at lightspeed in this industry. Besides, it doesn’t fit with persistence, or flexibility.

There's that thing I do. I can see it. My thumbnails didn't get better until I embraced it.

Years ago, when I drew I could always tell it was my drawing. I always seemed to do ‘that thing’ that I didn’t want to do, but it came out anyway. It was mostly based on a lack of drawing skill. I just needed to develop and train.

It was that aspect about my work that I kept trying to avoid because I didn’t think it was good enough. As I got better, I tried not to do it and learned to emulate others’ work. But that thing, that attitude stayed with me, dogging me, until I gave in to it.

When I did, I found it was my own personal view of things, but because I had trained hard, I could now embrace that look and drive it.

Give in to the thing that stands out about you. We all have something like that. Something we do that says it’s ours. I suspect you know this. Surrender to it.

In the middle of trying to find my way, I realized my brushwork had even more ways to go.

Surrender brings authenticity to your work. Definitely copy other work. Definitely train by studying the great painters and even those around you. Surround yourself with people that are better than you.

This is how you learn. Stop the insanity of trying to be creative, to come up with ‘the next best thing.’ It doesn’t work that way. If you are more in love with being recognized, then you aren’t painting. You just want to be a star, not a painter.

Letting it all hang out for a client, putting my quality on the line, and discovering new pathways.

The ancient Ninja of Japan (oh, you knew I’d bring that up at some point) embodied all of those words above. They were nothing if not patient, too. But the one thing they were extremely good at was risk. Recognizing opportunity and acting on that chance was a practical method for them.

The ninja marveled at how life presented crazy opportunities all the time, if only they could detect them. They studied it at length. They developed an eye for the right moment, an opening, a possibility. They had rehearsed and were prepared ahead of time to act on it. Ninja agents would go on missions with the clear understanding that they would die. Because they were willing to risk it all, they stood a better chance of accomplishing the mission.

It is a hard thing, risk. Scary. Yet I remember that more often than not, things turn out to be worth the risk.

 Huh? Ohh, stop it. Go get another piece of canvas. It’s not like you’re on a ninja mission or something. Jeeeez.


  1. Every time I finish a painting, I forget how to paint. So creepy! But somehow I remember when I try again. It's just different from last time and every other time to come.

    I think RISK is the most important........

    1. That's pretty much the truest thing I ever read

  2. Thank you Greg, for taking the time to put that down. Your wisdom from years of experience, honesty, clarity, and inspiration is priceless. You are simply the best of the best in my book! I am so thankful our paths crossed!!

    1. I'm glad, too, Sue! Thanks! Talk about versatile....YOU have a lot of skills that way! I know we've spoken about this at length. Part of the task of parsing it all out is just plain ol' FOCUS. (see below...)

      But with all the versatility, it allows for more pathways, and helps an artist survive. You can manipulate where and when those skills come out. These days, I'm beginning to think that being versatile is STILL a good, practical way to stay viable and survive in this market.

      Sure, develop that main thing that you love, but let the rest of those skills lay in wait in case you need them, right?

      KEEP. GOING.

      : D Greg

  3. now i just need to force myself to work!

    good stuff, Greg, thanks!

  4. Thanks Greg! These always seem to come at exactly the right time - you rock man.

    Anthony Di Giovanni

  5. Thank you for your valuable insight.
    Off to crack it like a ninja.

  6. Wonderful advice – and not just for painting. I've seen these same principles at work in graphic design, both as a designer and business owner. Okay, Greg, when is the "10 Things" book coming out? Don't deny it. I know you're working on it. Fess up, Man!

  7. Honestly, I hesitate to discuss advice as it can sound meddlesome. I try to come at it from practical experience that I've observed as a pattern over the years. It's meant for all of us to share. I want it to come off like that anyway. As if we're discussing these topics over coffee.

    Each time I bask in the light of your warm comments! Thanks, you guys.

    Jeff....I don't know how many years you have into painting, but this will come and go throughout your experience. Sometimes the experience is so fresh, the mind so sharp, it forgets what it's learned in favor of discovery. Odd, but important.

    Eric...'crack it like a ninja' ....hysterical!

    Steve....LOL! I've recently been approached about that! It would be fun. Right now, more needs to be fleshed out. You guys get to see them here first-hand. My original idea was to put them all down in a little chapbook to use as gifts for students, etc. We shall see!

  8. Greg,

    It's great to see your paintings from the schizophrenia treatment series you did for us a while back, and nice to know you consider them an important part of the evolution of your work. We all took a risk with that series, didn't we -- and it paid off, too! That campaign is still seen at our company as an example of what's possible in pharmaceutical promotion if you're willing to take a risk. Thanks for taking it along with us.

    By the way, Muddy Colors readers should know that that particular series earned Greg the cover of the Communication Arts Illustration Annual, a prestigious recognition. Worth the risk? I would say so!

    Take care, Greg.

    Jeff Cook (Merck)

  9. These working artist insights always seem to show up in my feed when I'm wondering what I'm doing and why I'm doing this (or trying to, anyway) and most needed.

    Most pertinent for me at this particular moment, I think, is "Surrender." There is *always* that "thing I do" in all my art and I'm always struggling against it because it doesn't seem to matter how I tackle a project, I always see that "thing I do" in Every Single Piece. It's incredibly frustrating.

    Thank you, Greg, for these pertinent 10 Things and your own experiences with them and sharing what you've learned!

  10. Thanks for the examples of your early work as well as your current paintings. You really can do anything so it's fascinating watching the choices you make now. That coupled with your always insightful words of wisdom. I love that brain of yours Mr. Manchess!

  11. You guys.....!! I'm getting choked up! You see, I had wondered for so very many years in the beginning if I would ever understand Art. What's happened is that I understand MY art, my work. I'm just beginning to know where I can take it.

    Your responses push me to find out more. I love that. I also love it because we are all in the same boat.

    Kitsune....I was hoping someone would spot that one and have the same experience! I'm certain there are others reading this that do, but haven't commented on it. That's the thing, Kitsune, you see it. That's part of that struggle and the irritation of it. It's frustrating on many levels, but one day it may be the very thing you rely on. I hope so, because it's so....YOU. : )

    JEFF!! So nice to have your comment here! I didn't know you were watching and reading! (and I hope it was ok to use another sample) I knew from the first day that Allison called me that the Faces Campaign would be different. A game-changer if you will. I also knew I had to have that job because it would force me to break into fresh ground.

    I was practically desperate to earn everyone's thumbs up to paint it. It has effectively changed my career, and may in retrospect have changed my life. Whole new visions for my work broke open in front of me. I discovered this very simple thing:

    I was holding back in my painting.

    How crazy simple, huh? But the experience of it, from painting to all the great folks I worked with, was fantastic.

    Thanks so much for peeking in here!

    Just so everyone knows....I can 'out' Jeff a little: he was a freelance illustrator for many years. He understands. It was great to have someone there who knows what it's like. Thanks again. the last minute yesterday evening, I though, 'hey, I can share images to go with the words.' Duuuh. I was up till 3am putting it together. I made more discoveries about my work by spreading them out in front of me like a timeline. Yikes.

    What did I see? Exactly what Kitsune is seeing: "there's that thing again." I was facing me as if I had a time-lapse video of grass growing.

    But it was important for me to share what I had to do to get to this point. Some artists never do this. But me? I had no talent, so I had to DRAG it OUT!! Kicking and screaming the whole way! LOL!


  12. Thank you so very much for sharing. Your words of wisdom come at just the right timing.

  13. Another great post Greg, thanks! Have you ever had paintings that you didn't particularly care for, that seem to be really popular with everyone else? Do you think theres anything to be learned from that? Thanks again for all the wisdom!

  14. Ninja advice is always the best advice...

  15. GWhitehall...yes, in fact I learned not long ago that one of my paintings that I felt was a career embarrassment is a close friend's favorite of mine! Ack!

    I think it has something to do with matching the picture we see in our head with the result on the board. Most times, they get pretty close. Other times, they're so far off that we're left with a bad feeling about the painting.

    Of course, other people don't have that original vision in their head to compare it to, so they see it with a fresh eye.

    Sometimes we paint something small and rather quickly and just adore the dang thing. I think that's because we don't spend much time working over it and can maintain our own fresh eye to the piece. I love when that happens.

    Training to look at your own work without the baggage that comes with it is everyone's goal....and one of the most difficult aspects of what we do. And writers, and musicians, and actors, etc.

  16. I just about live for these articles, Greg! I have them all bookmarked.

  17. Thanks so much for sharing this and your beautiful work Greg, it's really inspirational! A lot of what you said has resonated with me at a very important time as I am still very much an artist in training and facing 'One step forward, two steps back' a lot of the time, which I suppose is the nature of the beast!

    I especially loved your words about embracing the part of your art which is quintissentially 'you', and agree that it could be the thing you most dislike about it intially. Talk about irony, huh? I suppose that's when you know you've really found your style.

    Love the insight in your last comment about how the the viewers of your work don't have that original 'vision' to compare it to, unlike the artist him/herself. Even though it's so obvious, I'd never considered that before and it will go some way to helping me to accept my own work more easily. Thanks a million.

  18. I love the way you put these articles together Greg. Fantastic! I can't wait to share. What a treat to get to peak into your past work-- all the skill and diversity you've always had. Thank you for taking the time to harness your knowledge and share with us all.

  19. Amazing article! Each and every one of the ten things listed reaches out to me in a way. Its always healthy to read or see somthing that might help me improve. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Very cool article! I like the "surrender" one very much. I wonder if we all have this "hold back" thing in us. For some reason I keep doing this, find other things to do than what my brain tells me to.
    Totally agree with the "rehearse" part too, you need to keep the brain and the muscles supple.

    But for myself I need to add "focus". Every evening I feel almost dizzy with the dozen of ideas tumbling inside my brain, I really need to focus and take one step after the other. I feel frustrated to have only one or two days a week for all these ideas, but if I focus I can do big things even with this limited time.

  21. I don't see you as much a ninja than as a bearded "YODA" of the illustrating world. Every bit of advice I have ever heard from you or read from you has always been utterly reliable and instructive. Like my other hero James Gurney, you personify wisdom and are noble enough to share what you know with others. Us underlings are very appreciative (as you can already see). Again, Thank You.

  22. Another wonderful post, Greg. Yesterday, when you were showing your early work, I found it interesting that there on the right side edge of your apple (with the up-side-down seeds), is a touch of cerulean blue... a predecessor to your lovely brushstrokes of warm blues in your current portraits. A victorious surrender, in my opinion. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  23. not even a painter and this was ridiculously helpful. I just show up for the pretty pictures. I am an artist however - a writer - and this is an excellent guidebook on how to be a good artist.

  24. Greg - I'm still thinking about your 'surrender' paragraph - "That Thing you do..." Would you be willing to elaborate on this concept - maybe in a future installment? How that thought process worked (after the training part) to get to where you can *embrace* instead of despair at "That Thing..."...? (I still totally hate That Thing of mine...)

  25. Well, with responses like these, how can I not share? : ) on the table again. The realization to even be able to talk about this stuff came late in my career, say over the past 10 years. I have been watching, observing all of these points since my first hours in art school, and as the years went by, I watched how they played out. Many suspicions have proven real.

    I've also kept a practical head to all of the business of illustration, like not buying into too many accolades. As one actor said, "don't believe your own press." And that goes for good and bad.

    So this has helped. Also, when I started in the business, we didn't share how we painted something. That was top secret. Otherwise, people would copy. Well, that turned out to be absurd. People are going to copy, mostly out of love for the look or style, which is the greatest compliment.

    The other part of that is to be so good at what you do, that it's hard for anyone to be able to look like you. They will never be able to look quite the same, no matter what, because YOU are the original. (I think this may have to be part of a future 10 Things post...)

    dragonladych...D'OH! I was haunted by a word I couldn't remember...right on the tip, y'know? FOCUS is that word! Thanks! Perhaps I may have to do a second list at some point but you are so right: FOCUS is particularly good. And I have that problem with dizzy idea generation, too. Just the other day, I couldn't figure out what to do I had so many things running through my head at once.

    I finally had to sit down and do thumbnails of the ideas to stop the cascade of possibilities. My head relaxed very quickly. I ended up drawing for a while and that was what I needed to do. Man, sometimes even experience isn't enough to know what to do at the right time. : )

    Micah....Yoda, hah! I'd be honored if it wasn't for the fact that I'm not so tall. More like Luke...."kinda short for a stormtrooper..." And Yoda jumping around like a jumping bean won't leave my head. Arg. But uh, thanks! I'll try to talk like that I won't. "Draw, or draw not. There is no try."

    Thanks, Kim!

    Mandorallen...I love it when writers connect. I get a lot of my realization from books about other arts, like writing. It allows me to see painting in a fresh light and draw parallels. Years ago, I read "Writing Down The Bones"....and I realized if you switched the word 'writer' in that book for 'painter', many many times I could use it as a learning device for painting. Remarkable.

    Tara, Tara, Tara....that's a tough one. I'll try to elaborate on it in another 10 Things, but my feeling is that it will seem simple or obvious to you and you might not notice your own "thang" because of mine. But I'll give it a shot. I figured you might call me on that one. YOU!

    : D


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  27. I'm a little late to this post Greg, but I wanted to say thank you for it. This rings a lot of bells with me - still earlyish in my artistic career at the moment, but I feel like I'm reaching one of those moments where I start accepting that 'thing' that's me. I have struggled with a portfolio that is eclectic at best and with the 'just do it for you' side of things. But I can't tell you how reassuring it is that guys like you, who have come through it, can share with those of us who are still trying to find their voice without forcing it.

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  30. I found it. What a good basis for a book! I say go for it. MH


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